Panel Discusses How We Can Build Community Through Housing

In a historic space well-known for being at the center of important events, the Old North Church, in partnership with Historic Boston Inc., provided a forum for a panel discussion on housing.

The panel, comprised of Donna Brown who acted as Moderator, Christine Clements, Angie Liou, and Raber Umphenour, lent insights and experiences toward exploring topics related to architecture & design, cultural identity & gentrification and the impact on individuals as well as communities.

These main topics served as the base for further analysis of:

  • What specific design choices promote your community?
  • How do you approach new development and/or preservation process, fitting both into the context of neighborhood inclusion/participation?
  • Perception of exclusion?
  • How is cultural identity/community belonging reflected in your work?

Attendees learned about co-housing from its history to the nitty-gritty details of planning and execution from Clements. She spoke about the sacrifices, commitments, and decision-making distinctions of co-housing, of the origins in 1960s Denmark, of the consensus-building and surprisingly efficient work which can get done when people come together to construct a tight-knit community.

“We build the human community first, before we build the building.” – Christine Clements, Architect, on co-housing.

Liou spoke about her work in ensuring immigrant families, long-time residents, and new neighbors living in Chinatown can all build a community together, of how stable housing is a first foundation for empowering families to thrive by giving them a sense of belonging. She also talked about the roots of Chinatown – its uniqueness as a neighborhood, the effects of urban renewal and gentrification, the way its residents advocate for affordability, and its land scarcity which makes prioritizing community space and maximal usage a high priority.

“It’s not enough to house. Providing stable housing is the first step towards giving families a foundation as well as a sense of belonging.” – Angie Liou, Executive Director of Asian Community Development Corporation (ACDC) in Boston, on the mission of providing housing.

Umphenour spoke about Midway Artists Studio in Fort Point where he lives and works with 88 other creative professionals. He spoke about how artistic living is shaped around artistic housing from both a current and historic perspective, and of how building and maintaining artists housing is about balancing the support for living and working within the same environment.

“Make sure the values people express in terms of housing are carried out and translated to real outcomes.” – Raber Umphenour, Filmmaker, Director, and Community Leader, on the role of cultural identity in artists’ housing.

During the Q&A one attendee asked: “In a your ideal world, what changes to zoning laws would you like to see and how would things be different?” Another question revolved around how people can more actively participate and affect change when it comes to housing. Last, it was asked what role community plays in active citizenship.

Brown spoke about Gov. Baker’s Housing Choice Initiative, the need to protect tenants using existing tenant laws, creating additional affordable housing, and preserving what we have.

Rev. Stephen Ayres also spoke for a bit about the Clough House and expressed gratitude to Kathy Kottaridis of Historic Boston Inc. for their collaborative work. Information on upcoming Old North programming can be found here.